Salma Begum fumbled in the piles of the debris-strewn disaster site in Savar. A piece of torn cloth here, a rubber slipper there. She looked out. Was it her son's shirt or sandal? She mumbled. Only tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Where've you gone, my heart, my bazan (son)?.... I'll take you home," howled Salma, kneeling down on the jumbled concrete debris of Rana Plaza.
No one and nothing could stop her mourning. Only a sense of nothingness prevailed.
Like Salma, family members and relatives of Rana Plaza victims were given a chance to see the disaster site yesterday on the first anniversary of country's deadliest industrial disaster that claimed at least 1,135 lives and left more than 2,000 others injured. More than 100 still remain missing.
Torn clothes, papers, yarns, tags, two photos of a girl, probably a garment worker, are among the debris still scattered across the site. Some human bones were also seen strewn in the concrete rubble yesterday.
Even a year after the collapse, the stench of bodies still hangs over the site encircled by barbed wires and corrugated iron sheets at the rear.
The relatives of the victims wandered at the site to have a glimpse of the place where their loved ones worked and died. Some shared their agonies with others, some lit incense sticks. Some others just stood silently, with vacant looks, in tears. The hot air turned heavier.
Salma, aged around 50, was the first to enter the site. Policemen stood guard at the entrance to make sure that nobody could get through. But it was on her insistence and pleas that the cops stepped aside and allowed people in.
A resident of Savar's Omarpur area, Salma lost her two sons and a daughter-in-law. They all worked at Phantom Apparels on the second floor. Though she got the dead bodies of her elder son Uzzal and her daughter-in-law, the body of her younger son, Afzal, was never found.
Salma's family shuttled from one place to another, gave blood samples for DNA tests, but to no avail.
"My sons died here," she was telling herself, repeatedly.
After a while, her husband Kashem Ali took her away, as she yelled hard: "Where have you gone, my son?.... Oh, I wish I could get any of your last belongings.”
Kashem does not usually bring her near the site as she does not want to go back home once she comes there.
But Shirina, 60, came to the place from Manikganj, around 25 km from Savar, whenever she got a chance in the last one year. She lost her only son, Asadul, who was the sole breadwinner of her five-member family after her husband's death four years ago.
"I talked to my son over the phone for the last time on Thursday [a day after the collapse]. He told me: 'Ma, please take me out.'"
She left no stone unturned to find the body, but none could give her a clue.
"My son told me: 'You don't need to work at other people's houses as long as I live.' Now I'm working at other people's homes again," she cried, as she tightly held one of these correspondents' hands.
She has got Tk 1.1 lakh from different NGOs so far. Of the money, she repaid Tk 30,000 in loans and brought three goats and seven hens for her elder daughter, whose husband was paralysed recently.
Though Shirina got some help, Ayesha Khatun did not. Her daughter Khaleda Akter was an operator whose body, too, was never found.
"I've all the documents of my daughter, yet none gave me anything," she said.
Hatem Ali, who lost his wife to the tragedy, came to the spot along with his son, Ashik, barely nine years old.
The morning of April 24 will probably haunt him like a ghost for ever. On the previous evening, Hatem had come to know from his wife that some cracks had developed in the building.
On the fateful morning, he tried to stop her from going, but she would not listen.
"I even took away her ID card and tiffin box, and yet she left. She told me that she would not get her salary if she did not go," he said.
Ashik was at his grandparents' house in Mymensingh the day the building collapsed.
"I came here as my mother died here," he said, his voice choking.
Everyone, be it survivors or victims' family members, has tragic stories to tell. While many have received financial assistance from the prime minister's relief fund, NGOs, charities and social organisations, many have lost their sole breadwinners and have been waiting for some kind of help.
Mukta, whose sister Shahida Akhter worked on the second floor as a sewing operator, said many families got compensation but hers was left with nothing. "Many people took the name of my sister and promised help, but none kept their word."
Yesterday, relatives and family members of the victims thronged the disaster site to pay tribute to the victims. Many family members gathered in front of the monument "Protibade Protirodhe" with photographs of the missing ones in their hands. The monument, just in front of the site, was built in memory of the victims.
Two of the many placards they were holding read: "I don't want to die for fashion" and "We sew your attire, make our factories safe".
Several thousand people, workers of different garment factories, members of workers' organisations and government officials placed wreaths at the monument to mark the first anniversary of the collapse.
They chanted slogans demanding compensation and seeking punishment for the building owner and other factory officials, who forced the workers to join work although the building had been declared risky by local administration officials the previous day.
Meanwhile, garment workers and relatives of victims blocked the Dhaka-Aricha highway for four hours, demanding capital punishment for the building owner, Sohel Rana, financial assistance for the victims and workplace safety, reports our Savar correspondent.